The New Orleans Pelicans entered the 2023-24 NBA season with high hopes and a roster brimming with talent. The combination of young stars like Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, along with a solid supporting cast, had fans thinking about a deep playoff run. However, despite a promising start, the Pelicans found themselves ousted in the first round of the playoffs. This has left the organization and its supporters to grapple with another season of unmet expectations. As the dust settles, it's clear that changes are needed to elevate this team to true contender status.

Reflecting on the Pelicans' 2023 season

After missing the playoffs the previous year, the New Orleans Pelicans made a return by defeating the Sacramento Kings in the second game of the NBA play-in tournament. That followed an initial loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, their playoff journey was short-lived as they were swept in the first round by the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.

As the offseason continues, the Pelicans face a period of introspection and strategic planning to ensure more successful seasons ahead. This summer presents an opportunity for the team to become active in the trade market. Targeting the following three players could be crucial in their quest for improvement.

Zion Williamson on one side, Brandon Ingram on the other side in a blank jersey, a bunch of the big eyes emojis in the background

Here we will look at the three trades that the New Orleans Pelicans must make after an ugly playoff sweep vs. the Thunder.

Trading for Onyeka Okongwu

Sure, splashier targets than Onyeka Okongwu might seem more enticing. That said, his potential addition addresses some of the team’s most pressing needs. With Zion Williamson's availability always in question, the Pelicans’ offensive hierarchy remains uncertain. Brandon Ingram is a reliable scorer and sometimes spectacular. However, New Orleans needs a higher-level playmaker if they are to navigate the frequent absences of their star forward.

The focus should be on diversifying and upgrading their big-man rotation. Okongwu, despite standing at just 6'8 and having his own health concerns, offers a unique blend of rim protection and perimeter mobility. These are unmatched by any center currently on the Pelicans roster, including Larry Nance Jr.

Ideally, the Pelicans need someone who can set solid screens and stretch the floor. Okongwu isn’t a perfect fit, but he offers a bit of both. This season, he shot over 43 percent on 51 corner threes, mostly from the right side (16-of-32). He has also shown some capability with downhill drives and flip shots. His salary, starting a four-year, $62 million extension in 2024-25, is reasonable and fits well within the Pelicans' financial plans as they approach the luxury tax threshold.

Creating a trade package that appeals to the Atlanta Hawks should be feasible. The Hawks haven't fully committed to Okongwu as Clint Capela's successor. New Orleans has ample draft assets and could explore larger deals that involve key players like Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Brandon Ingram, and Dyson Daniels.

Houston Rockets guard Aaron Holiday (0) and forward Jabari Smith Jr. (10) defend Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) in the second half at State Farm Arena
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Adding Naz Reid

Jonas Valančiūnas excels in his role but lacks the ideal qualities to complement Williamson. The perfect big man to pair with Williamson would offer shot-blocking and floor-spacing. These are areas where Valančiūnas falls short. Naz Reid, on the other hand, brings both attributes and could provide even more if given a larger role than he currently has with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Reid’s per-36-minute averages this season highlight his potential as a competent shot-blocker (1.3 blocks, the fewest of his career) and an elite outside shooter (3.1 triples at a 41.4 percent clip). Yes, the Timberwolves would be reluctant to part with him. However, they might need to trim payroll. As such, moving Reid’s $14 million salary could be a necessary cost-cutting measure.

Acquiring Jarrett Allen

Though Jarrett Allen doesn’t expand the frontcourt’s spacing, he brings other invaluable attributes. Despite not being a shooter, Allen offers everything the Pelicans could want in a partner for Williamson. New Orleans reportedly was among the teams interested in Allen several months ago, despite his shooting limitations.

Allen excels at protecting the basket and can defend away from it. He is a strong rebounder and finishes with authority around the rim. Having spent the past three seasons alongside another non-shooter in Evan Mobley, Allen can operate in tight spaces. Adding Allen to the Pelicans could transform their defense into an elite unit. His presence could create the two-way balance necessary for the Pelicans to emerge as genuine title contenders.

Looking Ahead

For the New Orleans Pelicans, the offseason presents a critical opportunity to retool and strengthen their roster. Trading for Onyeka Okongwu, Naz Reid, and Jarrett Allen addresses key weaknesses and provides the team with a more balanced and versatile lineup. Okongwu brings defensive versatility and a developing offensive game, Reid adds essential shot-blocking and floor-spacing from the bench, and Allen offers elite rim protection and rebounding.

These strategic moves could elevate the Pelicans from a team with potential to a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. By addressing their most pressing needs, the Pelicans can ensure that the 2024-25 season is not just another chapter of unmet expectations but the beginning of a sustained run of success. The time for change is now, and with these trades, New Orleans can set the stage for a brighter future.